Friday, August 3, 2012


There’s a central problem to Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days, the third film adaptation of Jeff Kinney’s popular kids’ books. The movie is actually a conflation, combining episodes from the third book, DOAWK: The Last Straw, and the fourth, Dog Days.

The books, hand-lettered (or presented in a font that looks hand-lettered) and illuminated with Kinney’s riotous drawings, chronicle the adventures of Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon), an unathletic, video-game-obsessed preteen. Greg isn’t always a likable kid—he’s often a self-centered, wary, calculating little crud, and in this the books are similar to the TV series The Wonder Years, though without the nostalgic element they have a less reflective, more urgent edge. They’re also funnier.

The movie adaptations—of the first book in 2010 and the sequel DOAWK: Rodrick Rules last year—mix in animated versions of Kinney’s drawings, often introducing a figure as he or she looks in the books, then shifting to the live-action actor. More literal, they’re almost inevitably less edgy and funny. Without Greg’s tough-minded, unsentimental narration, a lot of the incident is really just low-comedy shtick. But as low-comedy shtick for kids goes, they’re quite agreeable.

Same goes for Dog Days, in which Greg struggles to construct a summer free of outdoor activities while staving off the threat that he might be sent to military school. He ends up accompanying his sweet-natured friend Rowley (Robert Capron) to a country club, also attended by the girl he likes, Holly (Peyton List), and claiming to have gotten a job there to impress his parents (Steve Zahn and Rachael Harris). Eventually Greg’s odious, rock-star-wannabe brother Rodrick (Devon Bostick) gets wise to him, and wackiness ensues. The comedic high point, probably, is Rodrick’s attempt to impress a girl he likes with his rendition of Justin Bieber’s “Baby Baby.”

The amusingly obvious problem—almost certainly the reason for hastily making two books into one—has to do with the differing rates at which humans grow. Gordon, the bright, lively young actor who plays the title role…well, he’s not a very wimpy-looking kid anymore. He seems, really, to be becoming what in Yiddish would be called a shtarker—thick-bodied, heavy-featured, substantial.

Thus director David Bowers can’t find enough low angles from which to shoot Devon Bostick to make it look like Greg would need to find Rodrick intimidating. Greg looks like he might even be able to take Steve Zahn, really. If he got sent to military school, he’d be running the place in a couple weeks.

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